Improved, practical crop breeding tools are essential to meet the increasing global demands for sustainable food production, made more urgent by the unpredictable stresses driven by a changing climate.
Scientists have invested great time and effort into making connections between a plant’s genotype, or its genetic makeup, and its phenotype, or the plant’s observable traits. Understanding a plant’s genome helps plant biologists predict how that plant will perform in the real world, which can be useful for breeding crop varieties that will produce high yields or resist stress.
Findings from an Iowa State University research team challenge previous understanding of the genetic control of traits associated with a “smart canopy” in sorghum.
Leaf angle has been an important trait manipulated to enhance yield for corn and some other crops. Plants with leaves upright at the top and more horizontal toward the bottom are idealized as having a “smart canopy” leaf arrangement, predicted to intercept more light, boost photosynthesis and increase yields.
This approach has not been a focus for improving sorghum, an important cereal crop worldwide for grain and forage production with potential as a bioenergy feedstock. The new research from Iowa State, studying sorghum leaf angle patterns and their underlying genetics and physiology, sheds light on opportunities to increase sorghum production. The findings were published recently in the peer-reviewed journal, Plant Physiology.
Seed banks across the globe store and preserve the genetic diversity of millions of varieties of crops. This massive collection of genetic material ensures crop breeders access to a wealth of genetics with which to breed crops that yield better or resist stress and disease.
But, with a world of corn genetics at their disposal, how do plant breeders know which varieties are worth studying and which ones aren’t? For most of history, that required growing the varieties and studying their performance in the real world. But innovative data analytics and genomics could help plant breeders predict the performance of new varieties without having to go to the effort of growing them.
Overexpression of soybean gene might lead to resistance from SDS and more
No matter if it is 50 acres or 50,000, crop producers must hone their management practices to maximize yield while minimizing costs. Any number of different pathogens or pests can derail a good season. Soybean farmers in Iowa know how devastating they can be, with some causing millions in losses each year.
A recently published study led by Iowa State University scientists applied a fresh perspective to vast amounts of data on rice plants to find better ways to predict plant performance and new insights about how plants adapt to different environments.
The study, published in the academic journal Genome Research, unearthed patterns in datasets collected on rice plants across Asia, said Jianming Yu, professor of agronomy and Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding. Those patterns allowed the researchers to develop a matrix to help them predict the traits of rice plants depending on their genetics and the environment in which they’re grown. The research could improve the ability of farmers to predict how crop varieties will perform in various environments, giving growers a better sense of stability and minimizing risk, Yu said.
Thomas Lübberstedt is pushing the boundaries of genetics and its use in developing tools and methods to make plant breeding more efficient.
His work is leading to improved virus resistance and more sustainable agricultural systems around the world. The Frey Chair in Agronomy and Director of the Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding, Lübberstedt recently received the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Outstanding Achievement in Research Award.
Lübberstedt grew up on a horticultural farm in Germany and earned his degrees from the universities of Munich and Hohenheim. He spent several years working in Germany, and then Denmark, before coming to Iowa State in 2007 to take an endowed chair position.
Genetic engineering systems are critical tools to advance crop genomics research and related crop improvement efforts in the United States and worldwide. These tools have been limited, however, by the high complexity and low efficiency of current crop transformation processes.
To help overcome these limitations, the National Science Foundation has awarded $2.9 million to Iowa State University and University of Wisconsin scientists to develop the next generation of crop transformation tools and the crop geneticists who’ll put them to work.
Thoughts from our Anne Dinges who attended the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research last month at Kennesaw State University, just north of Atlanta, Georgia.
"It was a rewarding experience to present my research at a conference of 4,000 presenters. During my poster session, I had people that came up with varying levels of plant genetics knowledge. I was able to tell those with very little about my project, experience, and the potential impact it could have on farmers in the future. On the other hand, I had a couple in-depth conversations regarding current and future plant biotechnology with people that are studying exactly that at other universities.